A horrifying new report by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reveals that, for more than a decade, Florida’s political leaders and the state Department of Corrections (FDC) have ignored the sexual abuse by staff, including rape, of incarcerated women at the Lowell Correctional Institution.
The report is shocking, but not surprising to anyone who’s paid attention to Florida’s prison system. Its findings should, at a minimum, finally prompt the Legislature to establish independent oversight of Florida’s prisons.
According to DOJ, Florida Corrections was made aware of systemic sexual abuse of Lowell prisoners by staff as early as 2006, but failed to take action to remedy the problem. In fact, the report notes the Department created a safe harbor for some of the worst offenders.
One sergeant at Lowell was accused in 2017 of sexually abusing a prisoner, “causing lesions on the prisoner’s throat from oral sex, and then retaliating against the prisoner when she refused his sexual advances.” FDC confirmed the prisoner’s injuries, but failed to complete the investigation into the allegation. That sergeant remained employed until his arrest earlier this year — for sexual misconduct with a different woman.
Far from an “isolated incident,” DOJ found a “long-standing pattern” of such incidents at Lowell. In 2018, a sergeant allegedly raped a prisoner in a storage area, “pull[ing] [her] pants down and forc[ing] his penis in anally.”
DOJ found it is common for employees at Lowell to bribe women with contraband in exchange for sex, compel women into abusive sexual “relationships” and watch women shower and use the toilet. Then they threaten the women with solitary confinement if they report the abuse.